Imagine your team is working on a major project. The team is having a meeting to discuss some changes that will be necessary as a result of a snag the project has hit that’s made the client pretty unhappy. You’ll want to define the problem, discuss identifying how the issue happened and brainstorming on the best possible solution. You’ve been working really hard on this project, putting in a lot of overtime. You’re aware of the issue and think you have some pretty good ideas on how to tackle it, so you’re looking forward to showing the team what you’ve got! As the meeting gets underway, the team lead seems pretty upset. As the meeting goes on, it seems every time you raise your hand to chime in, its usually dismissed, and if you are able to contribute, you feel your input is minimized or forgotten. Knowing how hard you’ve worked on this project, this really upsets you and you begin to feel your anger and frustration grow. Do you say something and express how you’re feeling? Do you keep quiet? What if the team lead embarrasses you for speaking out? What if you’re wrong about the solution you think would solve the problem?
Let’s consider your own work setting. What happens in your job today if you make a mistake? Or if you notice someone else make a mistake? Are you afraid to speak up? Fear the consequences? Do your team members support each other in having tough conversations? Do you trust your team and feel safe enough to be vulnerable with them? In a continuum of time, when are you most vulnerable? An example would be when you are new to a company or perhaps a team. You don’t know anyone and your survival instinct has you more guarded than free flowing, or being yourself. Do you recognize that? Take a moment to reflect on these questions.
Let’s say you’re lucky enough to be part of an awesome team where none of these is an issue. What does “awesome” look like?
And what about the affect this has on your company? Unhappy employees leads to higher turnover, less productivity, slower innovation, and higher organizational costs.
Now imagine feeling excited to show up to work every day knowing you’ll be greeted by a supportive team, trusting its ok to take risks, feeling that what you have to say matters, knowing you can be your authentic self. How energizing would that be?
This conversation is called Psychological Safety. That probably sounds like a funny term. What is it, you ask? Psychological Safety is your perception of how safe you are to take risks within your team, and how you feel your team will respond. Is anyone going to embarrass you if you make a mistake? Will you feel supported? Do you feel heard? Do you feel your ideas are valued? Do you feel accepted and respected?
Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson says psychological safety ‘‘describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’
The term got a lot of attention after a major study done by Google in 2012, code named Project Aristotle, to understand why some teams did so well and other teams flopped. The name was a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" (since the Google researchers believed employees can achieve more working together than alone). They studied 180 teams from all across the company to find the key component of building high performance teams and the researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together.
They learned that people don’t want to have to be a different person at work than they are at home, but rather, to feel psychologically safe, team members wanted to know that they can trust the group enough to be vulnerable when they needed to and to speak honestly without fear of recrimination, including the ability to have difficult conversations when necessary.
Many of us know how much of our work depends on a team. In fact, one study, published in The Harvard Business Review, found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has grown by 50 percent or more’’. So how we engage with our teams affects a big part of our day! And creating an environment where we feel connected to our teammates based on feelings of empathy and safety is the way to make those engagements more meaningful. And this holds true for telecommuters and virtual teams as well.
Everyone deserves to feel safe in their organization. I’ve developed the 4:4:4 Method for creating Psychological Safety that involves the individual, the team, and the organization. If you’d like to learn more about how this can benefit you and your organization, I’d love to tell you more.
ENGAGE: Want to find out more about Psychological Safety? Click here to contact me and let’s chat.
GO FURTHER: I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below or send me a message.
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